On a block lined with identical rowhouses, the former boarding house that Karen Shen and Kevin Costello had come to see hardly stood out. Its painted exterior and slightly worn condition were typical for the Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood of Prospect Heights. But as soon as the couple stepped inside, they knew they'd found a gem. There was the original woodwork intact—oak archways, classical columns, bird's-eye maple cabinetry, and a fantastic run of fretwork overhead. "We fell hard for the house," says Karen. "All because of those details."
The TOH crew, working with local contractor Michael R. Streaman, is remodeling the couple's 1904 Renaissance Revival rowhouse, helping them turn it into three apartments while restoring its exterior and preserving the ornate details. The late-Victorian-era house dates to the heyday of the decorated urban interior, when elaborate woodwork carved by machine was shipped in bulk around the country. Over the years, many similar homes were gutted and converted into separate apartments—but not this one. Its decades as a low-rent boarding house kept the woodwork away from renovators' wrecking bars.
The couple plans to live with their three young boys on the first and second floors and part of the garden-level floor. The rest of the garden level and the third floor will be separate rental apartments. But before they get started, come on in and check out the beauty that drew them—and This Old House—to this architectural treasure trove.